You can listen to the audio lesson here.
You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.
PART VI – Tying It All Together
Lesson Fifteen: A Singular Mission
“18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,’” (Matthew 28:18-20; ESV).”
In 21st century America, most organizations have a mission statement. Following suit, many churches have also developed mission statements to help them have a united purpose. Mission statements in-and-of themselves are not wrong. They can be quite helpful for uniting organizations of people under one cause or vision. The problem comes when God has stated the purpose for an institution, and it seeks to redefine that purpose. The question must be asked, then: If God has already given the church a mission, why are we still drawing up mission statements as though He hasn’t already spoken?
Mission Statements. A quick survey of the mission (or vision) statements of most churches demonstrates one or both of two things. First, many churches get the importance of the Great Commission in stating the mission of the church. They seek to demonstrate that they get its importance by using language that suggests as much. However, in talking about the importance of making disciples, they often use terms like creative or unique to describe their evangelism, suggesting that God’s word is not sufficient to teach us how to make and equip the disciples of Christ in the local church.
Others will hit on one aspect of the Great Commission (making disciples or, perhaps, foreign missions) while neglecting others, and especially baptism. A mission statement is often one of the first things that a potential visitor might read. Putting it out there that new disciples will be expected to make a commitment to the local church through something as public and personal as baptism is not a very seeker-friendly approach. Also, teaching is seen by many in our culture as “so one-sided.” That language could easily be replaced with talk of “helping” people move to the “next level” in their personal relationship with Christ.
A second thing made evident by a survey most churches’ mission statements is their man-centeredness. Even those that boast being Christ-centered will often spend the rest of the statement using terms like personal and individual, revealing how they really are more concerned with luring in potential church members than corporately honoring God. Even their man-centeredness is often shallow at best. They will give you cookie-cutter classes on how to move to the “next level” with Christ, but they often are more concerned with organizational matters than truly shepherding souls.
Think of some of the larger churches you have attended. Most likely, you barely knew the pastors of those churches and likely even spoke with several members who told you they had never met the man. This is the man that Hebrews 13:17 says must “keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account,” (NASB). Yet many of these pastors have never spoken more than a few sentences to many of the members of the churches they claim to shepherd.
The problem is not the size of the church, though. The problem is the lack of overseers necessary to shepherd such sizeable flocks. In order for true discipleship to take place, and the sheep to be adequately guarded against the wolves, pastors must share the work of the local church with other pastors to ensure that each member of the church is being fed, guarded, taught, encouraged, and built up in Christ.
Mission creep. Is there a problem, then, with mission statements? Yes. There is a problem with mission statements (plural). If a church does not recognize that they have already received their inerrant, infallible marching orders in the Great Commission, then they have already erred. The Lord has told the church what her mission is to be on this earth. We are to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. That is the singular mission that should consume the local church. All other causes, purposes, or missions are to be subservient to this one all-consuming mission. When churches deviate from the God-breathed Great Commission, they inevitably engage in what is known as mission creep.
“mission creep: the gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization,” (Merriam-Webster).
When an organization commits mission creep, moving off of or broadening its originally stated objectives, the result is something far different than the original mission. The organization itself comes to resemble something far different than what it was meant to be. In the case of military organizations, the stated objectives are not met resulting military campaigns being prolonged. The church has been given her marching orders. We have a singular mission. We have not been commanded to broaden it or be creative. Our orders are very simple. We make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching.
What are some of the ways in which churches have decided to broaden the mission of the church in recent years? One way is by becoming overly political in their emphases. Some churches have gone so far as to have political personalities come and speak to their people about matters of state, people who have no business filling the pulpit on the Lord’s Day. These churches run the error of Saul who, as king of Israel, had no business presenting the ceremonial offering to God before going into battle (1Sam. 13:8-14). He who enters the solemn assembly on the Lord’s Day either enters as God’s uniquely called representative to distribute the word and sacraments to the people or as disciples of Christ who come to bring an incense offering of corporate prayer and song, and to receive the word and sacraments. There is, therefore, no office of magistrate among the assembly of God’s people during His public worship.
Nor is there any place for earthly inter-mingling of nationalism with the worship of God. Christ’s disciples should be taught to respect and pray for civil magistrates (1Tim. 2:1-2; 1Pt. 2:13-17). However, when churches engage in Memorial Day services or bring the American flag into the assembly of God, a boundary has been crossed that should not be crossed by God’s church. No nation is ever to be put on par with, or elevated above, the kingdom of God during the worship of God. When the citizens of God’s kingdom enter His embassy on His day, there should be a recognition that they are leaving the soil of their earthly nation and standing on the soil of the kingdom of heaven.
Christians do not exist to improve their nation, state, or city. The land on which our church meets has had six national flags flown over it. From 1821 to 1845 alone—the span of just 25 years—Texas went from Spanish control, to Mexican control, to independence, to American statehood. Imagine, if the same thing were to occur today, what utter chaos and confusion would set in for many churches. What flag would they have on their stage opposite and equal with their Christian flag? Which politicians and political commentators would they invite in to interview during God’s worship before His kingdom citizens? God’s people need to be those who recognize that God establishes kings and removes them from their thrown, but His kingdom endures forever. As such, there should be no inter-mingling of God’s worship with national pride.
Moving beyond this one glaring error, there are many also who wish to bring social justice causes into the mission of God’s church. These people often are more concerned about societal ills, as they perceive them, than making disciples. Some of these causes are noble and, insofar as they are addressed in Scripture, should be a part of local church discipleship. Men should be taught to be spiritual leaders in their homes and present influences in the lives of their children. Women, children, and the disabled should be protected from all forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Partiality, in all its forms, should be openly shunned so that none are privileged above any others. Abortion should be outed as murder. Violence of any sort should be decried. The biblical definition of marriage and the marriage bed should be clearly taught.
In teaching on all of these issues, as well as the rest of the counsel of Scripture, Christ’s disciples will be adequately equipped to live for God as they ought. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work,” (2Tim. 3:16-17; NASB). Sadly, there are entire websites, podcasts, and organizations that have been established (some even calling themselves Reformed) that undermine the sufficiency of Scripture and have sought to smuggle worldly philosophies and the traditions of men into Christian discipleship (Col. 2:8-23).
These people see “white privilege,” “male privilege,” and even “straight privilege” (culturally defined labels) as necessary, mission-redefining concerns of the church. They suggest pragmatic solutions such as altering the hiring and ordaining practices of the church to be slave to worldly quotas rather than the leading of the Holy Spirit. They too seek to inject political discussions into the mission of the church, bringing up all manner of topics such as gun control, immigration, and the redistribution of wealth, as though these ought to be the primary focal points of the kingdom of God.
Sadly, the evidence is undeniable that the church has gotten off mission. Our purpose, our vision, our mission is to always, only be that of fulfilling the Great Commission. When we get side-tracked and start to follow red herrings, the enemy has succeeded in getting us off mission. When we are more concerned with social or political reform than we are with heart reform, we demonstrate that we have forgotten our first love. Let the church re-center on the primary mission to which we have been called on this earth: the Great Commission. As we do, we will return yet again to the chief end of the church of God. As we seek to make new disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching, God will be glorified and enjoyed as only He deserves.
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